Sara Recchi

Rethinking the boundary between formal and informal economies in the Global North: the case of street vending in Milan

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The article explores the hybridisation processes between formal and informal economies within the street vending sector. Drawing on critical analytical lenses promoted by research on urban informal economy in the Global South, this study aims to overcome the rigid dualism in exploring the two economic sides in the Global North. Data come from ethnographic research carried out in five open-air markets in Milan (Italy). Specifically, participant observation and unstructured interviews with regular and irregular vendors were conducted. The results reveal that informality is not only anchored to the informal sphere but also affects the commercial activities of authorised workers. A complex system of interactions and overlapping between formal and informal workers emerges, resulting from relational, economic, and institutional factors. Therefore, such hybridisations not only occur in countries with «weak» economic systems and institutional apparatuses but may also affect global cities in the «developed» world. This study contributes to rethink informalisation processes in Western countries, while encouraging to move beyond the Global South-Global North dualism in exploring the informal economy


  • street vending
  • informal economy
  • formal-informal interlinks
  • bottom-up regulations
  • Global South and Global North


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